Full text of "Design"
build, hack, tweak, share, discover.
Written By: Brookelynn Morris
Soil mix (1)
Small rocks (1)
Fine shears (1)
Copper wire (1)
Hemp twine (1)
Fertilizer: various types and strengths (1)
Moss, pebbles, and other plants (optional) (1)
Bonsai plants are, in their essence, little trees. Yet the art of bonsai has a much greater
scope: it strives to replicate nature. It is an art that emulates the elements and their action
on living plants. A tree is just a sapling until the roots grow, the water comes into the soil,
and the forces of sun, wind, and gravity sculpt it into shape. The bonsai artist uses a variety
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of tools to replicate these effects and create a perfect miniature version of life on Earth.
Watching your tiny tree as it cycles through the seasons, going dormant, pushing out leaf
buds, blossoming, and then producing fruits or berries is very rewarding, and a wonderful
way to connect with the natural world.
The art of growing bonsai is well adapted to the urban gardener. These plantings require less
water, less soil, and less square footage. But just because they're diminutive, doesn't mean
that they don't need great amounts of care and tending. Regular waterings are the most
essential. Tasks such as repotting and restyling are done when needed, as well as pruning,
training, and shaping. These chores are not without reward. Because bonsai can recreate
complete landscapes, the impression of grand natural space exudes from these small
Aesthetics dominate the art of bonsai. Many stringent rules exist for the purists dedicated to
this art. Ancient standards declare that certain trees are to be grown in certain shapes and
planted into certain pots. But the modern, creative gardener follows her own path toward
beauty. Just be sure to never lose sight of the visual appeal and design of your plantings.
The more you learn about bonsai, the more you realize what you have yet to learn. To
properly cultivate a design could take decades. From the beginning, art is made and life is
growing, but the passage of time is the core of bonsai. Many experts in the field have been
growing bonsai 50 years or more. This is a simple primer to help you establish your roots.
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Step 1 — Choose your tree.
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• Choosing the species of tree to
grow is the first, and possibly most
difficult, task. Pines and maples
are perhaps the most recognizable
bonsai. These trees are classic
beauties and well suited for
miniaturization. Flowering and
fruiting trees are popular as well,
especially the quince and
• Bonsai trees are not necessarily
always trees. Many shrubs can be
grown and manipulated into bonsai
forms that belie their natural state.
Wisteria vines and azaleas can be
shaped into thick tree trunks that
they would never produce normally.
• The tree can be grown from seed
or propagated through a cutting.
The easiest way to begin is to
select a sapling from your favorite
• Bonsai Styles: Bonsai are
often classified into five
basic styles — formal upright,
informal upright, slanting, cascade,
and semi-cascade — based on the
overall shape and how much the
trunk slants. You'll also find dozens
of additional styles such as literati,
windswept, and weeping branch,
which you can mix and modify as
you see fit.
• A good introduction can be found at
on Wikipedia or in Bonsai for
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Beginners by Craig Coussins
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Step 2 — Select a complementary container.
• The chosen tree will dictate its
container. The two must make a
visually pleasing combination.
Traditionally, the intended shape of
the tree is matched to a specific
• For instance, a straight-sided pot
would be used for a straight-
growing formal upright style tree,
while a round or oval pot would be
used for an informal style with a
curving trunk or limbs. The same
rules state that evergreens should
be exclusively set into unglazed
• While there is room for variance, in
general you'll find that your eye will
naturally follow some of these
same rules of design out of
instinct. When choosing a pot,
consider the sides and consider the
depth. If you're growing a tree that
will cascade out of the pot like it's
growing on the edge of a cliff, you'll
want to choose a tall pot; a
collective planting meant to look
like a meadow needs a wide and
• Finally, select the hue of the
pottery. Try to complement the
color of the leaves most of all.
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Step 3 — Prepare the soil.
• Dirt is a tree's lifeline. The soil
clinging to the roots provides the
tree with its moisture and nutrients.
It is crucial to use a mix that will
hold water, but not keep the roots
too wet. The grain of the soil is also
a consideration. When a tree's root
encounters a large, sharp rock, the
tip of the root splits in two and
grows around it. The result is a
finer, thinner root, unable to take up
as much water as a large root,
therefore contributing to natural
• Plant your bonsai tree in soil with a
combination of rich dirt and larger
bits of rock to replicate this effect.
You can purchase specialty soil,
custom-tailored to suit the unique
texture and drainage needs of
bonsai, or you can customize your
own soil with raw materials such as
bark, coconut fiber, perlite, and
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Step 4 — Plant the bonsai.
• If the pot does not have drainage holes, use a drill with a ceramic bit to add a hole. To
prevent soil loss, cover it with a piece of screen.
• Before planting gently remove the tree from its container and inspect the roots. They will
likely have grown around each other. Pull loose these tangled, skinny roots with your
hands, and trim away the shaggy ends with hand shears. Also remove any brown or
unhealthy roots. Next, find the taproot (the primary root), and cut it off. This is an important
step to dwarf the plant. Finally, fan out and thin the roots at the base of the trunk using the
rake. Always use a gentle touch with the roots.
• Cover the bottom of the pot with soil. Add the tree with its roots fanned out wide. Cover the
roots with soil, filling the pot evenly until the surface of the dirt is level.
Step 5 — Complete the bonsai environment.
• Now give the tree a generous drink, to "water it in." Finally, add any moss, rocks, or
companion plants to flesh out your design.
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Step 6 — Tend the bonsai.
• Place the tree in direct sunlight. If
the light seems too intense for
young or delicate trees, hang a
shade cloth to filter the light. Water
as needed. Do not put your tree on
a strict schedule. Wait for it to
become mostly dry before you
• Maintain the health of the tree, and
begin to shape it, with simple
pruning and pinching. Prune any
branches that are less than
healthy, or that stand in the way of
the shape you'd like to make
(Figure I). Pinching back new
growth at the ends of branches will
• Before you start shaping the tree,
allow it to grow until it seems well
established in its new environment.
Depending on your patience, this
might be a season, or a whole
year, or only a few weeks.
• Feed the bonsai throughout the
year. During winter dormancy, feed
it a fertilizer low in nitrogen. When
spring arrives, increase the amount
of nitrogen, and through the
summer use a balanced food.
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Step 7 — Shape the bonsai.
• When shaping trees, the objective is to manipulate the tree, without scarring the bark, to
create the illusion of years of natural stress from the forces of nature. Start slow, with
gentle tension. You can gradually increase the tension over time.
• Here are 3 methods:
• Wire. When wiring, use care not to damage the tree. Don't wrap the wire too tightly around
the wood. Check the wiring often, removing and replacing it as the tree grows. Begin by
coiling one end of the copper wire around the base of the tree, and wind it along the trunk
or branch you wish to bend. Be certain to lay the wire evenly so as to properly distribute
the pressure. When the tree has been wired, bend the branch or trunk carefully with both
hands, gripping evenly to avoid snapping the tree.
• Tie. Tie a piece of thin hemp rope or cotton twine around the pot. Now tie a piece of twine
to the branch you wish to bend, and pull it down with the string until it curves as you like.
To maintain the tension, tie the loose end to the string that's tied around the pot.
• Weight. Choose a small stone, not heavy enough to break the tree, and hang it from the
trunk or branch with a small length of wire or string. Don't hang the weight from the very
tip, as you could break the tree. Instead, start 1/3 of the way from the tip, wrap the wire or
string evenly around until you reach the end, and then let the stone dangle.
• Depending on the thickness of the trunk, and the shape you intend to create, you might
use these techniques over the course of a season, or even for a year or more.
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Step 8 — Display the bonsai.
• Potting a perfect tree into a perfect
pot is not the final step. This art
must be displayed, and thus
honored. Placing the tree on a
small stand gives it a sense of
importance, and elevates it above
the common. Consider something
simple, such as a piece of cork, a
modest wooden plant stand with
short legs that doesn't throw off the
balance, a slab of raw slate, or a
This project first appeared in CRAFT Volume 08 pages 134-139.
This document was last generated on 2012-11-14 09:40:01 AM.
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